Following Susan Orlean’s Earlier Advice That You Might Choose to Describe a Single Physical Feature of a Character, Sort Of

By Geo Beach

Susan Orlean
Susan Orlean

“I don’t think love is silly.”
-- Susan Orlean, “Writing with and about passion” [Nieman Narrative Conference closing keynote session]

Even in a large, high-ceiling ballroom, Susan Orlean’s mouth kisses the back row.

They’re wet kisses.

Her lips are far more red even than her hair, and they are caricatured, inflated, enough to serve as arched eyebrow and wink, toss of tresses, shrug, sway, foot-tap. Breath and swallow, bit lip and lick, valuable purse. Susan Orlean’s lips are twisted into a comma at one corner, at both corners then, and mark an apologetic quote, the wry shared words that become now a mutual friend.

And her lips are the world that has swept in, spinning out yarns the whole nine yards of whole cloth. No, not that. Her mouth is not clichéd.

Susan Orlean smiles a Hollywood projector but not mere incisors, remember, a smile happens everyplace else, cheek, chin, the delta of experience that flows from a blue pupil lateral to her temple. Her dimple is an edit, the thing more beautiful because something is taken away.

Her lips make words. Her mouth loves, telling stories.

“And during the next song she crossed the room and kissed me.” -- from “Devotion Road” [“Passion” session closing quote]

Independent journalist Geo Beach contributes commentaries to NPR, columns to the Anchorage Daily News, and essays to

Posted in character, profiles, scenes, sessions.Making It Matter, speakers.Susan Orlean, writing with passion on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink